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  Attempt Made to Buy Caps, Bullets, Arena

By Mark Asher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 19, 1994; Page D01

Roland Betts, the largest individual stockholder of the Texas Rangers baseball team, said this week he unsuccessfully attempted to buy Abe Pollin's professional basketball and hockey teams and USAir Arena last year.

Betts, who remains interested in obtaining the three properties, said if he were successful in his bid, he would build a privately financed arena near a Metro station in either downtown Washington or a close-in suburb.

Betts and Tom Bernstein, his partner in New York-based Silver Screen Management, a film-financing company that invested $1 billion in movies produced by Walt Disney studios over a seven-year period, offered Pollin about $170 million for the two franchises and USAir Arena last summer, sources said.

But Pollin said no thanks, even though he seriously considered selling the hockey team last year.

"We did have discussions with Abe about buying both teams and the building and thought we had a deal," Betts said this week from his New York office. "We were very disappointed when Abe changed his mind, and we still have an interest if he wants to sell. We respect Abe. He's been in the business 50 seasons."

Jerry Sachs, president of Centre Management Group, Pollin's holding company, said of Betts's bid and interest: "We really have no comment about that whatsoever."

The talks were initiated last spring by National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman, at Pollin's request. The 70-year-old Pollin has, at times, indicated a willingness to listen to offers to sell his sports properties. Betts and Bernstein were willing to meet the price set by Pollin, sources said, but Pollin has taken the three properties off the market.

Since December, Pollin and his closest advisers and associates have concluded that USAir Arena, formerly Capital Centre — which opened in 1973 — needs to be replaced and they have been seeking a publicly-financed, modern facility. Possible sites include the District, Laurel (near Jack Kent Cooke's proposed football stadium), Landover and Baltimore (next to Oriole Park at Camden Yards). Elected officials in both Maryland and the District have expressed a willingness to cooperate with him.

Betts recently expressed to David Osnos, Pollin's primary lawyer and member of a small coterie of Pollin insiders, that he still wants to purchase the teams and arena if Pollin wants to sell, sources said.

Pollin, Osnos and Peter O'Malley, a Maryland attorney and close friend of Pollin, were involved in the discussions with Betts. None of the three could be reached the past two days to comment.

Betts confirmed he is interested in the District as a site for the teams if he could buy them, but declined to discuss other possible locations.

Betts also declined to discuss who his partners might be, although at the time of his previous discussions with Pollin, they were said to include local developer Theodore N. Lerner. Lerner did not return calls this week.

Former pro football star Calvin Hill, a vice president of the Baltimore Orioles and a fraternity brother of Betts and Rangers general partner George W. Bush during their college days at Yale, would be actively involved in Betts's organization.

Betts, who owns 12.5 percent of the Rangers, and Bush, the son of the former President who serves as one of the team's two general partners, were a year ahead of Hill at Yale, graduating in 1968. Betts and Bernstein, also a Yale graduate, helped put together the limited partnership that bought the Rangers for $83 million in the spring of 1989. Hill said that he and the younger Bush have remained close friends over the years despite opposite political leanings. "We agreed not to discuss politics," Hill said.

Betts and Bernstein started Silver Screen in 1983 and after working together with Home Box Office (HBO) for two years began working with Disney in 1984.

Betts and Bernstein have recently spent $60 million to help complete a 1.5-million square-foot, privately-financed sports-and-entertainment project on the Hudson River in lower Manhattan. It will include golf, skating, a marina and film-producing studios.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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